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Gristmill: Life Without Cable

Wed, 06/10/2020 - 19:33

A man can get used to anything, Dostoyevsky wrote. But that was before the advent of cable.

Out of a rich, even steaming, stew of reasons, from frugality (it’s a rip-off) to high-mindedness (a hundred channels I don’t like, want, or approve of) to naive optimism (maybe the family will play cards and board games instead), I pulled the plug on cable television at precisely the wrong time, the beginning of March, right at the dawn of crises for the ages, a Grim Reaper of a contagion stalking the land, followed hard by nationwide protests over continued police brutality and racial inequality.

Yet there I was in the living room as the flat-screen went dark, left holding my Roku stick.

The funny thing is, it was instantly not missed. What, one teenager in the house enjoyed having “Impractical Jokers” or “The Office” on in the background while plowing through geometry problems? Time to move on, kid.

Particularly relieving for me has been the absence of cable news, for years now rendered unwatchable by bad network policy and dumb cultural trends. The personality-driven drama, the constant, slanted opinion from talking heads, the parroting of phraseology (“That’s a great question, Anderson”), the actory emoting (“I’m so sorry for your loss,” as if that boilerplate utterance communicated anything other than insincerity). And God, or maybe the BBC, help you if you want news of the world beyond our borders.

The old Coastie who started it all with CNN 40 years ago this month, Ted Turner, would be spinning in Davy Jones’s Locker, if only he were there yet.

But when it comes to news gathering in troubled times, I’ve noticed that my children’s novel appendage, the screen-phone, reveals to them through social media the latest outrages a good half a day before even the swiftest and most craven website aggregator.

My wife will occasionally check in with cable news commentary streamed over her laptop, the audio-only suiting it well, thank you very much, as those shows took their cue from talk radio long ago. You want some torture endured, Dostoyevsky? Try hacking it as a delivery driver stuck all day in a Chevy Suburban with nothing but talk-dominated mid-’90s AM radio to listen to, meaning Rush Limbaugh and G. Gordon Liddy. (But I was making the rounds for The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, so, like the apocryphal circus shoveler of elephant dung, I was in the business.) 

Now I try to keep up online through The Times, which has gotten so good at it they’re in danger of putting everyone else out of business, Amazon-style. Which would be fine by me. Just give me a few minutes to find my cribbage board.

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